March 7, 2010

The Best Damn Sports Movie Period

What does one do to alleviate Olympic coverage withdrawal symptoms? Watch Clint Eastwood's latest masterpiece, Invictus of course. In an era of philandering athletes, skyrocketing salaries, inflated egos, I love the Olympics because it is all about the sport and the honor of representing one's country in front of a global audience. The film about South Africa's stunning World Cup debut in 1995 is about that, and much more.

After the nation's first multi-racial democratic elections, President Nelson Mandela (played by the incomparable Morgan Freeman) has the herculean task of healing deep divisions in his post-apartheid country. Seen as a continuing symbol of government sanctioned racism, the national rugby team---the Springboks--- is reviled by the black populace. The newly elected leader extends his message of reconciliation and forgiveness to sports, and encourages his people to support the team. We see how the Nobel Prize laureate's morality and strength of character galvanizes team captain Francois Pienaar (the increasingly adroit Matt Damon). The movie's title comes from Mr. Mandela's favorite poem that sustained him during his 27 years of imprisonment, and he shares it with the embattled sportsman.

I want to see a full length biography of Mr. Mandela as we see only glimpses of his personal struggles and inspiring life. The visit to the prison cell evoked memories of fallen Philippine opposition leader Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino. The trials and tribulations of South Africa's first black president also draws comparisons to Barack Obama's dilemma of "balancing black aspirations and white fears". Athletic competitions and the movies about them always deliver uplifting messages and emotional highs, but this film goes beyond that. The stakes were higher. On the line: unity and nation-building.

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